Yes, everyone IS entitled to their own opinions (beliefs)—but not all opinions are equally valid (think ‘flat earth’), and some are very, very harmful. We could simply ignore our disagreement with harmful fundamentalist views, but that would leave potentially new fundamentalists uninformed and vulnerable to the harmful beliefs they are being asked to embrace. And it would also leave those already questioning the validity of these doctrines without resources and support as they begin to think for themselves.
Some fundamentalist beliefs are extremely harmful, and I think it very important that we expose them, explain them, and correct them in order to reduce the damage they cause. But what if we are wrong in OUR opinions? Would WE then be the ones damaging others by leading them astray?
Let me make a clear statement: I KNOW I am mistaken in some of my beliefs. I don’t know which ones, of course, but NOBODY is correct on everything. And that includes me—and you.
However, being mistaken does not carry the same consequences in all cases. Mistaking rat poison as a food ingredient does not bear the same consequence as mistaking salt for sugar. This is why I focus on beliefs that are most harmful and have the greatest negative consequences.
I am well aware that many accuse me of the terrible consequence of my leading people to eternal punishment in hell, and if this were true it would be terrible indeed! But I don’t believe anyone will be punished in hell, and in this case I don’t think there is a 1% chance that I am mistaken.
Some of the Most Harmful and Damaging Fundamentalist Beliefs Today
There are many points on which fundamentalists and other believers agree, and some disagreements that don’t matter much; but there are a significant number of beliefs that do great damage to people. I call these damaging beliefs ‘religious baggage’ because they seriously impact people negatively.
Not all religious differences are as serious as others. I don’t care much if a person believes that Sunday is the new Sabbath and applies Old Testament Sabbath restrictions to Sunday. It doesn’t matter much to me if a person believes they must give 10% of their income to the local church. It doesn’t bother me if a person believes we must be baptized by immersion only. I disagree with all these positions, and I think they do have negative consequences, but they do not rise to the level of tremendous harm in my mind.
But there are plenty of beliefs that do:
- The Bible is God’s inerrant word
- God is angry, violent, and vindictive
- God will punish people in hell for eternity
- God demands that we follow numerous legalistic rules
- God condemns and rejects LGBTs
- God’s plan for families and churches is a patriarchy of men over women
- The Genesis account of creation is literal history and evolution is a lie
In my opinion, these views are not only misguided but they really hurt people! They either create heavy burdens for those who embrace them, distract believers from full involvement in the kingdom of God, or result in personal damage to other people.
I have collected relevant articles and resources from myself and others on each of these issues that you can see, if you wish, by viewing the appropriate sections from Resources on Harmful Beliefs in the menu band at the top of this page.
Are Fundamentalist Teachers and Leaders Villains to be Castigated?
The answer is No. Though I think conservative Christian leaders do great damage by teaching these harmful beliefs, they are not villains. Most of them are not dishonest. I do not accuse them of using these beliefs for power or personal benefit—they really believe what they teach. They are also our fellow believers and followers of Jesus, and I believe God loves them just the same as God loves us who are not burdened with this baggage. I would take communion with any of them.
My issue is with the harmful doctrines themselves—not the teachers and leaders who are also victims of these teachings. I think the focus should be on exposing and correcting the fallacies of these doctrines and not disparaging the leaders. I don’t think castigating the leaders is appropriate—the problem is the doctrines they believe and teach. I rarely even mention their names.
We should not dehumanize them or attack them as enemies—they are our opponents in perspective but not our enemies. And we should love them as we love ourselves—hate is not an option. Some might think this sounds a lot like ‘love the sinner; hate the sin’ which is a common conservative religious expression, but I don’t think it is. The usual use of ‘love the sinner; hate the sin’ carries with it a lot of personal judgment and condemnation. I am not qualified to bring judgment and condemnation on these fellow-believers; who am I to judge another man’s servant?
What Should We Do About Harmful Fundamentalist/Evangelical Teachings?
Conservative Christian leaders are NOT villains to be castigated, but they do harm a lot of people (including themselves) with their teaching. I think we should refrain from personal attacks on leaders and teachers; but we must call out the harmful theology. We must expose false, misguided beliefs that cause great harm to people.
It is true that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not all opinions are equally valid. And there are many disagreements, but not all disagreements are equally important. So let us identify the most harmful beliefs and expose them for the sake of those who are hurt, or might potentially be hurt, by them.
Articles in this series: Inerrantist Believers
Why Call Out Fundamentalist Views: Isn’t Everyone Entitled to Their Own Opinion?
Why Progressive Believers and Fundamentalist Believers Disagree on So Many Important Beliefs
For My Inerrantist Friends: Why Appeals to Inerrancy are Totally Ineffective in Discussion
Jesus Without Baggage Welcomes Inerrantists!
‘The Bible Clearly Says’ is Always a Seriously Misguided Statement